Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, state legislatures can no longer use the Supreme Court as an excuse to fail to act to save babies and mothers from abortion. In this new context, key national anti-abortion leaders have been taking sides on the question of whether or not state-level anti-abortion legislation should include provisions to prosecute women for aborting their babies. Some leaders argue that justice requires that a woman who aborts her baby must face the same penalties which would be imposed upon any calloused woman who murders her born child. Others argue that women who abort their babies are themselves victims of abortion, and that they should never face punishment.
But those who seek to criminalize women and those who would absolve women are both in danger of losing their focus (and thus losing today’s key battles). In most situations, women are not solely responsible for their abortion decisions, but face great pressures from other people (and from society as a whole). Some women who seek to protect their babies are coerced into aborting them. If we apply the Golden Rule to aborted babies, would an aborted baby advocate punishment for her mother? Anyone familiar with Frank Peretti’s Tilly knows the answer.
From the beginning, the pro-life movement at large has been characterized by the dual desires of seeking to save innocent babies and to help their mothers. Dr. Don Smith, our dear departed friend who produced the film The Silent Scream, also produced films like Your Crisis Pregnancy, compassionately offering help to abortion-minded women. Countless ministries which focus on helping women have been birthed over the decades of the pro-life movement. From the first decade of the pro-life movement, such pro-women ministries have comprised the largest segment of the pro-life movement (sometimes even eclipsing the broader goal of saving babies).
One such ministry, His Nesting Place, was established as both a pro-life church and as a maternity home to express the love of Christ to needy women facing difficult pregnancies. HNP founders Pastor Al and Judy Howard have always been among the strongest voices for protecting babies, even to the point of being jailed for seeking to stop abortions. Yet on a day-to-day basis, they dedicated most of their time to helping mothers. Such actions are fully compatible, not contradictory. The best efforts of the pro-life movement have always been focused on both the babies and the mothers.
Even as we now must focus on ending abortion state by state, now more than ever we must continue to pursue efforts to help woman who are caught in the crossfire of this battle. We must ensure that every pregnant woman is able to find the help she needs in the midst of any crisis she faces. If we fall short of this goal, the pro-abortion movement will be sure to broadcast our failures throughout the nation. We must ensure that woman-focused pregnancy help ministries continue to be strong — but such ministries are not enough! Every pro-life church must seek to help pregnant women directly (not just by sending money to a helping ministry), because Christians in the pew need to see the people whose lives are impacted by their votes (the women and the babies, all of whom bear God’s image). Furthermore, every pro-life Christian should be eager to offer direct help to pregnant women and their babies – face-to-face, personal help, in addition to the essential help offered through churches and other institutions. Yet all of this woman-focused help will lead us to defeat if we lose our focus on saving vulnerable babies from death.
While state-level life-saving legislation is essential today, this cannot be the end goal of the pro-life movement. If we seek to end abortion throughout the nation, ultimately our goal must be a federal Constitutional Life Amendment which recognizes that every human being is a person from the beginning of their biological development. Scientifically, the definition of a human being is unambiguous, including every preborn baby – but also embracing every woman.
Securing personhood for a preborn child does not in any way detract from the personhood of the mother, nor does such personhood hinder women’s rights in any way. On the contrary, half of preborn children are female!
When the personhood of a preborn child is recognized, the due process rights of that child (as recognized by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments) must be protected, whether such due process rights are procedural or substantive. Nevertheless, the child’s mother also retains her own rights to due process. The child’s mother also retains her rights to the presumption of innocence under our system of justice, and she must be considered innocent until proven guilty. Of course, the preborn child, who has committed no crime, also deserves the presumption of innocence. As this struggle for justice continues, we must not fail to hold on to these key principles which go to the heart of who we are as Americans.
But even if a woman is guilty of intentionally killing her own child, such a woman rarely acts alone.
So how should we treat a woman who is solely condemned for a crime which involved others? Jesus faced this situation, being presented with a woman who was caught in adultery. Judicially, this woman deserved death, according to the Jewish laws at that time. But the man (who was presumably also caught in that same crime) also deserved that same punishment. The fact that nobody intended to punish the man should not escape our notice here. Without denying that she deserved death (stoning), Jesus interposed judicially by insisting that whoever was without sin must throw the first stone. Jesus’ words caused everybody in that crowd to become aware of their own sin, so none of them threw that stone. Jesus then set the woman free, without condemnation, but while challenging her to turn away from her sin. How could any Christian claim that Jesus’ merciful act of judicial interposition was unjust?
Those who focus on punishing women for abortion may lose the opportunity to help such women accept the fact that although they do indeed deserve death, Jesus interposed on the cross to pay their death penalty. But these women are never alone in their sins.
The sins of a nation create an environment in which women face excruciating choices. When scriptures like Lamentations 4:10 say that “the hands of compassionate women have cooked their own children,” no punishment for such women was ever indicated. Indeed, these guilty women are characterized as “compassionate,” even in the midst of these most heinous acts. Presumably, such women received in their own bodies “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27), but it seems that no additional punishment was necessary. How could this be? Ultimately, the whole nation was guilty. The heinous acts of these mothers pointed to the depravity of the culture as a whole.
When it comes to our national sin of abortion, we are all guilty.
Jesus did not come into the world to condemn anyone, but that all who turn to Him might be saved. In the same way, the pro-life movement is not here to condemn anyone, but to seek to affirm and protect the personhood of all.
The ultimate goal of the pro-life movement is to end abortion as quickly as possible. By focusing on punishing guilty women, would we cause great (unnecessary) delays in fulfilling that goal? Strategically, women (even those who aborted their babies) may be most useful in bringing an end to abortion.
Over the past half-century of the pro-life movement, the greatest advocates for ending abortion have always been women. Many of these women who now seek to end abortion once aborted their own babies. Other women gratefully look to the pro-life movement as being responsible for saving their children from abortion. Most pro-life leaders would say that they experienced their greatest joy when they encountered such women who gratefully express appreciation that the lives of their children were saved. These women had once been guilty of committing abortion (at least in their hearts, according to Jesus), but instead of being punished, they experienced the greatest blessing of nurturing the child they once intended to kill. No, justice does not always require external punishments, but ultimately the consequences of such actions are intrinsic to the act.
At the end of our nation’s bloody civil war, when so much blood had been shed, President Lincoln focused on the good that could be done for the former slaves while taking a strong stand against punishing those who caused so much suffering to these slaves. Instead of seeking “justice” through punishment, Lincoln’s goal was to unify the nation, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
At this momentous time in the pro-life movement, may the vision of Lincoln, the compassion of Jesus, and the core principles of our nation guide all who seek to protect innocent preborn babies – and their mothers.